‘I’ ON CULTURE
Game Night is a fun comedy that, for a nice change, is not merely a group of jumbled jokes. There are no superheroes here, just relatively bored suburbanites who wind up in the middle of a mess and get through much of it without even realizing what is happening.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) have been married for a while and both are super-competitive game players. They live to compete, possibly because they’ve been unable to have a child. But they do seem to like each other a lot, something not always clear in comedies these days.
They invite friends over for their regular game night, which is quickly hijacked by Max’s more successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). He is another reason Max is so competitive: Max has spent a lifetime losing to the brother, who casually announces that the winning couple from the game gets to keep his fancy car.
Also invited are Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), a long-married couple who’ve been together since they were teens. There’s only one small problem: she reveals that for one short time when they had broken up, she dated someone who became a celebrity. He has major issues dealing with that. And then there’s Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a real dope. He generally brings “dates” who are as dumb as he is, but this time, knowing there is a real prize, he brings along smart, wholesome, Sarah (Sharon Horgan). He works to show off, but she quickly realizes he’s a fool. Carefully not invited in is the creepy cop who lives next door, Gary (Jesse Plemons), who is recently divorced.
The game this week is not a usual party game like Pictionary or charades, but a murder mystery. However, something is off about the game. Part of it is simply a game, but there is also a deadly serious part. One of the fun parts of the movie is watching the strange reactions of the couples, who at first see some really dangerous things and completely under-react because they think this is all part of a game. There are real bad guys, who the game players think are actors. There is a gruesome but hilarious scene involving the removal of a bullet.
There are two directors for the film: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, and they keep things moving fast enough that there really is no time to spot plot holes. And this is great, because the movie is funny on many levels. Writer Mark Perez knows how to keep us busy and laughing as the zingers fly. I have often written of my frustration with poorly written movies, but this one clearly demonstrates how strong writing can overcome almost anything.
The cast is really good. Bateman, as usual, shines when he can underplay most of his part, only seeming tortured at key parts. He is a great comedic actor who comes across as an everyman slowly going nuts. McAdams gets to do comedy, and she has great chops. The two bandy dialogue back and forth wonderfully well, not only getting laughs, but illuminating their characters. I actually would love to see the two of them together in more films.
I liked Horgan, who really comes into her own here. Morris gets laughs with his slow burn over her infidelity. The real scene stealer is Plemons, however. Having a cop who feels slighted by being left out of the game in the middle of what is, in reality, an ongoing crime scene, is a great bit of fun, and Plemons milks it for all its worth. Kudos for demonstrating that there are no small roles when a really good actor is performing them.
In a winter season that has already provided a brilliant superhero film, it is good to have a funny comedy that does not depend on having its characters debased. Most of the characters are all reasonable people tossed into insanity and reacting to it.
I really liked the film. In a time when there are very few good comedies that don’t involve strange teens or adults behaving like teens, it is very welcome.